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Deciding to pursue an MBA is pretty big decision. You may worry whether you’ll be able to continue working. If you have a family, you’re likely to be concerned that you won’t have time to take part in family gatherings or events with your children.

If you’re working full-time as a manager, flexibility is a definite concern - you need to be present at your desk to handle problems and ensure that work is getting done. This is a definite concern for older prospective students; in short, the “non-traditional” student. This is much more common in those trying to earn a graduate degree, such as an MBA degree, than it is for undergraduate studies. You’ve already been through school before, so you know the routine and commitment you have to make.

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Why Universities are Bringing Traditional MBA Programs to an Online Format

Universities (state universities and colleges and some Ivy League schools) are beginning to shift from offering traditional, face-to-face MBA programs to making it possible for you to take your classes from the comfort of your home or your office. This includes top MBA programs, such as the Harvard business school, Columbia business school, and Wharton school of business.

All online MBA classes are taught by the same professors who teach the face-to-face classes. You may be able to take every class 100% online. Depending on how classes are offered, if something comes up at work or home, you may be able to pause a class, take care of the issue, and then return. That way, you won’t miss any required classes or coursework.

In some online MBA programs, you may even be able to take the required classes in any order you please, although it would be helpful if you’ve taken a few classes earlier so you have the knowledge you need to keep going. In addition, classes may only last seven weeks rather than 10 or 11.

All of this has been done in order to give you the ability to take classes without forcing you to take an extended leave from work. However, if you are hoping to pay lower rates in your online degree, you may be disappointed. Many online programs from business schools all over the country charge the same rate, or higher, as their top MBA programs that start on campus in the Fall.

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Shorter Time in an MBA Program

You want to be able to control your time while you’re involved with earning an online MBA. Trying to balance family, home life, and work is already challenging enough. You may be thinking, “Add in taking MBA classes? Am I insane?”

Time is probably at a real premium for you. If work and family take up a significant amount of your time, this could be a huge speed bump for your MBA courses. Take the classes to increase your knowledge and move ahead in your job would be great. But. . . time.

Maybe you’ve heard about traditional MBA programs offering classes at night, after work. That's definitely an option, but even that may not seem very attractive. You’re tired by 5PM and all you want to do is go home! This doesn’t even take the time you need to complete homework assignments into account.

What if you could find an online program that offers asynchronous classes? This means that you’re not tied into a set day and time of the week to attend class online. You can log into your business school's online learning platform at any time that’s convenient for you—even midnight or 1A.M. You can take part in online forum discussions when it’s convenient for you, giving you the time one evening to finish that report and put off your next class assignment.

You will have deadlines for completing assignments and taking tests. You’ll also have to take part in scheduled discussions. But, for the rest of the class duration, your time, as limited as it is, is yours. As long as you complete assignments and work on time, you'll be good.

Some online MBA programs also offer connection apps so you can access your classes wherever you are.

You may wonder how long it will take you, from the first day of your first class to your last final exam. That’s definitely a valid question for anyone. MBAs in traditional programs can take roughly two years to finish. Online MBA programs conclude much more quickly — in about 12 months. And that will get you through all of your required courses. Rather than completing them in a “leisurely” 18 weeks for six credits, you’ll take one class, finish that in roughly seven weeks, then start the next class. Yes, it’s intense. You’ll be dealing with a lot of reading. But, rather than having to spread your time and attention between two classes, you can focus your time on one class at a time.

Now that you know this, you should start looking at the different programs. Once you find the online MBA program that fits your goals and needs and produces alumni that gain the types of positions you are interested in, you can begin the application process.

Increased Flexibility

Some schools offer two kinds of online class formats. One is the 100% online MBA and the second is the Flexible MBA.

A 100% Online MBA program is just as it is described. All of your classes take place online. The school of your choice teaches you what you need to work as a graduate of an MBA program. You’ll learn both strategic and practical skills in the different MBA disciplines. You’ll gain the most basic skills needed by entrepreneurs.

As you weigh your options, keep in mind that, for a busy manager, you need the ability to adjust and adapt at a moment’s notice. An online program offers you that flexibility, especially if your program is totally online. If something comes up, either at home or work, you’ll be able to give attention to those concerns, then return to studies and work.

Everyone knows that life happens. A family situation or an emergency at work can interfere to the point that you have to devote all your time and attention to that one issue. It can quickly move your courses to the low end of your to-do list.

Keep in mind that a large percentage (more than 90%) of students completing online MBAs are still able to work and complete their degrees. It definitely helps if the program you are involved in has a built-in flexibility and helpful services like online library access. This is one of the points making online programs so attractive to students like you.

Flexibility can also apply to where you log in to attend a class. You’ll be able to do this in any location that contains an internet connection, or in your own home.

Some programs define flexibility as giving you the choice to take your MBA classes solely in a face-to-face environment or by blending both a combination of face-to-face and online. In such a program, you’ll be able to choose from one of several course start dates, take a general track and a concentration tracks to gain even more flexibility, and choose between part-time or full-time terms.

Think about taking just one class per term, finishing within two months, then starting another class. Because this is fully online, you still need the face-to-face interaction. Some university’s online offerings contain a residency weekend in which you network with other students and instructors. You can also take part in workshops, panels, and discussions covering topics that pertain to the classes you are taking. Residency frequency varies among online MBA programs.

Non-Traditional Student Populations

Students who have already earned their bachelor’s degrees and older students are the ones most likely to be attracted to an online MBA program. They know they want and need to expand their educations. But they may not have the time to dedicate to to a full-time pursuit of an MBA.

Quitting their jobs, going on a sabbatical, or taking extended leave won’t work for them. They need their paychecks to help support their families.

Speaking of families, going to on-campus classes five or even six days a week may not be realistic.

This leaves online programs. Wherever the MBA-student-to-be lives, they'll like the convenience factor. They'll appreciate that, if a challenging situation at work develops, they can “pause” their current class, take care of the issue, then, when everything has settled down, resume the class.

As you consider your options and career goals, you may end up ruling many business school options out. You may be the most attracted to an online program simply because of its convenience. Sure, you’re going to be busier. But you know that, when you finish, you’re going to be holding something very valuable and that you’re going to be better able to change your life so that you can offer more to your loved ones.

Rather than looking at just one online program, consider the options in several different programs from various business schools. Highlight the ones that matter the most to you. Weigh each one, using a pros and cons approach. Then, select which one will best meet your lifestyle and career needs before you begin the MBA admissions process.

When you first started college, you went to your classes on-campus. You needed books, notebooks, pens, pencils, a parking permit, a bike, and a vehicle to get around. If you lived on campus, you may not have had to buy very much food, especially if you ate in the dining room.

With an online MBA program, you’ll need an internet connection and a computer. You may also need a printer. Books? You may not have to worry about these because they could be available digitally. However, you may download and print out class handouts in quantity. To protect the files on your computer, you should also invest in an external hard drive so you can back your materials up.

“But what about connecting with fellow students?” This is a definite consideration. Some universities have created residency weekends for this, as was discussed earlier. In addition, you’ll be part of an online class forum. As you communicate with fellow students on class questions and discussions, you’ll also be able to do so with your instructors. In this way, you’ll get some connection. You’ll get to know fellow students and instructors. It may not be face-to-face, but you may be able to save contact information and, once you’ve graduated, stay in contact, either as friends or for networking purposes.

If you live miles away from the university you want to attend for your online MBA, that’s not a concern. The internet brings us all closer together. So it is with classes offered in an online MBA.

Non-traditional students are worried about the quality of education they will receive from an online MBA program. There is no difference. In fact, because you are opting for online courses, you will be more disciplined than students attending face-to-face classes.

“Will the quality of the classes I take be as high as if I had attended in-person?” Yes. It will be. Even though your degree will be from an online program, its quality will rival that of a residential MBA program. Often the courses will be identical.

Because you’ll be taking the responsibility for accessing your classes and learning the material, you can consider the classes to be of higher rigor. You don’t want to throw your money away, so this is an excellent question. You want to take each class, knowing it is bringing you just a bit closer to your goal and degree. Before you sign up for the program, check the program accreditation. You need to make sure that it is accredited, which means the online institution is required to ensure that each class and program has been closely inspected. Every class within the online MBA has to deliver value to you.

Program cost is another major factor. The factors that you consider as you evaluate this question can include interactions with professors and class peers, fairness, a strong support system, and course rigor. You want your classes to challenge you academically and intellectually. You may want to see features such as positive attitudes from instructors, high involvement, high levels of participation from fellow students, high-quality technology, and high media richness (you will get some class materials from related media, and it needs to be easily viewable).

You probably filled out instructor and course evaluation forms at the end of each semester in your undergraduate classes. The same considerations will affect how you evaluate the online classes you’ll be taking. Most of all, you’ll be checking out several course structures, because you want to find courses that fit your needs and particular situation.

Millennials have had a huge impact on the increase in online MBA programs. They thought of ways that technology can contain and provide the same content as material offered in a traditional, residential class. Because of this, the full-time residential MBA program may soon become outdated.

In its infancy, online MBA programs operated as flipped classrooms as students watched videos that had been produced by university faculty every week. After viewing the videos, students met in small-group formats, using live WebEx sessions to complete coursework. Now, of course, the course offerings have developed and evolved, becoming more sophisticated. Non-traditional students are becoming more and more common in online classes.

Some universities have decided to increase their offerings of online MBA programs just because they want to attract a wider range of students — including more non-traditional students. These schools want to extend higher-quality educational opportunities to people of all ages. Now, with online options, anyone can participate.

Admissions Process for Traditional MBA Programs

While applicants to a traditional MBA program will complete almost the same steps from school to business school, there may be some small changes to each MBA admissions process. While they may be small, they aren’t just cosmetic differences. Each business school that offers an MBA has reasons for including a step or leaving it out. For every traditional MBA program, you may have to take either the GMAT or GRE test and have your GRE or GMAT score results sent to each top business school in which you are interested. Standardized test scores are taking up less and less of the dialogue for MBA admissions officers these days, but they're still important. Online MBA programs may not require this testing.

You’ll need to complete and send in the following:

  • Official undergraduate transcript records from your previous university
  • GMAT vs. GRE test results
  • A personal essay
  • TOEFL/IELTS/Pearson Test of English
  • Resume
  • Recommendations (Number depends on the business school)
  • Admission fee
  • An acceptance of school policies (again, this is individual from program to program)

Once you have submitted your written application and it has been reviewed, you’ll be called in for a face-to-face interview. At some schools, you’re required to submit a written reflection. This may be sent to you online and you may be required to submit your reflection online.

As you work on your application documents, create a checklist so you know what you’ve completed and what you still have to work on.

At another school, you may be required to submit background information along with all the other documents required, such as your resume. Some schools have program-specific documentation they require. These may include essays specific to the program, as well as an oral proficiency interview.

If you’re enrolling into a program that requires students to have past professional experience, expect to provide documentation of this. You’ll also have to document activities, awards and personal information. If a program warns you against including additional materials, follow this instruction. Your efforts will be wasted, because the extra information won’t be reviewed.

Pay close attention to the required format for your application materials. Some programs won’t accept paper transcripts, for instance. Instead, they will tell you to provide a sealed hard copy or an encrypted digital copy from each university you list on your application. Some schools may tell you to scan your transcripts, then convert them into PDF format, then send these online.

If you have already taken your GRE or GMAT, but you took them several years ago, this should be acceptable. Ask each school you’re interested in how old each score should be. Also, some schools require the Integrated Reasoning and the Analytical Writing Assessment if you took the GMAT.

Once you are admitted to some schools, then you submit your official GRE or GMAT score. Be sure to ask each program for their school codes.

When you write your essay, pay attention to every instruction and make sure your essay complies. If you are told to answer a question in no more than 250 characters, make sure your answer falls within this range. You’ll be required to write at least one longer essay (between 250 and 500 words). Pay attention to these word limits.

Depending on which program you’re enrolling in, you may be required to write several essays. Each will cover a different topic, such as successes or failures. You may be expected to write about your aspirations in business or how you envision working in a business field. Use your past experiences and imagination. Be persuasive!

If you are applying for a special fellowship in an MBA program, you’ll be required to work on an essay customized to the fellowship. This is similar to another essay you may have already written, but it may instruct you to reflect on how your fellowship opportunity has influenced your career goals.

Differences Between a Traditional MBA and an Online MBA

Each option has its pluses and minuses. If you are already working (some MBA programs require prior experience), then it’s going to be hard for you to give up a job you enjoy.

On the other hand, once you commit to an online program, you have to commit. You’ll be even busier than before. If you’re still working on good time-management skills, these are to be valued. Managing your time so you can complete readings and, assignments, and still complete work projects will assure your manager that you can commit to completing everything on your desk.

Some students do better in a face-to-face educational environment. Showing up in a classroom and spending an hour in class helps you to maintain focus. Other students may be able to self-motivate online, get work assignments done and finish homework assignments as well.

What may be a minus for one MBA student may be a plus for you. Rather than giving up your job, if you take your classes online, you don’t have to take time to drive to the university, sit in the classroom, then return to the office. In face, you may be able to “attend” class” from your office.

If you’re not as outgoing as other people, it may be hard for you to speak up in a classroom environment. The online “classroom: will fit your personality. Because other students, or the instructor, can’t see your face in forum discussions, you may feel more free to speak frankly. You may be less fearful of pushing back against something another student posted.

Face-to-face classes also require a high level of class preparation. You have to study before your class, complete assigned work and be prepared to defend something you say. Thus, if you are a more “passive,” quiet student, this won’t be easy for you. Your professor may give grades for level of participation, meaning you’re going to have to resolve to speak out more often.

An MBA from an accredited online university or non-profit institution is as valuable as a degree from a traditional business program.

If you’re comparing an online MBA degree to an MBA from Harvard’s traditional MBA program, there’s no way they can compare. Of course, you have to leave your job and move to Boston to achieve this.

When it comes to price, an online MBA may not cost any more than a traditional MBA from an Ivy league school. Still, why leave a good job? Enroll in an online program and go to school at the same time. You may graduate sooner than if you had gone to Harvard.

Paying for a traditional MBA, along with books and related supplies may be beyond your ability. Even grants and scholarships may not be enough, especially if you chooser a prestigious school’s MBA program.

The rest of this list is all pros.

  • An online MBA doesn’t take as long. You may be able to finish between 12 and 18 months in an online program.
  • You can’t beat the convenience. Rather than going to classes at seven at night when you just want to relax, you’ll be able to log in and “attend” a class session from home, possibly in your pajamas.
  • Choosing a top-ranked business program means that, once you graduate with your MBA, you’ll have new career opportunities.
  • You’ll be able to build on your professional experience. In your classes, you’ll learn the theory, then apply it, using your previous experience.
  • Four words: Develop an international network.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do most students still attend MBA programs in-person?

At this point, if you choose to attend an MBA program online, you’ll be attending the same way the majority of other students at this level do. Whereas MBA programs have, for years, provided access to classes that happened within the classroom setting, only they happened in the evening or on the weekend, students have quickly embraced the new online options. MBA programs are generally attended by professionals who are busy working during the regular business hours of the week, and they don’t want to drive across busy cities or try to get halfway across their state on the weekend to attend class. Online options allow them to attend the best school for them, no matter where it happens to be.

Do I need to have work experience to get into an MBA program?

While not all programs of this type are the same, you are likely to need some amount of experience in order to gain access to an MBA. This is because these programs are made for professionals. Schools want to make sure that you have the experience of using your undergraduate knowledge in a business situation before you begin learning the more in-depth information associated with a master’s. By requiring this, they ensure that their students will be more than prepared for their degree programs, and that they are likely to be capable of completing the program and succeeding when they move into a new position.

What can I expect from an accelerated MBA?

For one thing, you may not be able to continue working as you are now if you choose to complete an accelerated MBA. Not only are these courses much more intense because of the compressed time frame, but many students must attend full-time in order to finish everything they must to graduate on time. However, you can also save thousands of dollars and quite a bit of time by attending one of these programs.

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